Role-Playing Teaching (Part 10:Why RPGs Rock in the Classroom)

Role-Playing Teaching (1)

So far I’ve written 9 articles in my Role-Playing Teaching series and I’ve just realised I didn’t write anything about why RPGs are so cool when it comes to teaching! So here we are, a list of seven main reasons you should take your class into one of the Never-Never worlds.

1. Communication

I wrote about it in Character Creation part – with RPGs you start communicating before you even start playing. You create your character, you establish relationships with other players and then you spend hours talking, communicating, arguing, convincing and making people see your point of view. You don’t practice communication, you simply communicate and learn on the way, that if you speak to a police officer the way you talk with your best buddy, it may affect the communication. Which is a lesson worth learning before you meet an actual police officer and start talking rubbish…

2. Fun

I know some people believe proper learning requires solemn approach, study books and a lot of copies with grammar drills. I agree with this perspective when it comes to introducing grammar constructions (surprisingly, I guess that in order to understand the Reported Speech you need to produce a certain amount of drills) – but my primary goal in teaching is fun; this is the main reason I teach, honestly. And when you can teach, play and have fun at the same time – how could I resist the temptation?

3. Friendship

For years I’ve been attending fantasy fans’ conventions and spent hours talking about RPGs, systems, world, adventures and sessions – if you’re a teacher, imagine attending a teachers’ conference and discussing with a random teacher of another subject and from another part of your country your issues with a particular group of students: it doesn’t sound probable, right? Yet that’s what RPGs fans do, we share our adventures, epic stories and even equally epic dice rolls! Why? Because RPGs connect people – you start talking about the last edition of Warhammer, go for a pint, it turns out you have some common interests apart from RPGs, then you meet more people like this, have a great time, you meet them again on another convention and boom! suddenly you have friends all over the country.

Very useful from a tourist’s point of view.

4. Research

I remember, when we started playing my presently favourite system (Delta Green) we did quite a lot of research on American governmental organisations (as you usually play an FBI agent, or a CDC official, or maybe even an NRA representative, and you even might playing a CIA agent if you’re risky enough). Likewise, when we started playing Call of Cthulhu in 1920, we had to do some research on laws, politics, pop-culture, social code etc. I’m planning to take my teen students on the journey to the USA in the 1920s and that will require them to do some reading and learn things they otherwise wouldn’t even bother to think about.

5. Memories

Imagine meeting people after five years and trying to find a common topic after you’re done with the small talks. Sometimes it causes awkward silence, but never for the RPGs fans! Our chats are full of “do you remember” – “do you remember when you killed that giant demonic slug with one hit?” (don’t ask…) or “do you remember when we had to solve the case of the missing hen?” (4 hours playing). Taking part in various “after years” meetings I must say the RPG-related ones are the liveliest and the funniest. No English course will give you memories similar to those when you go on an adventure with a group of people who ultimately become your friends.

6. Team building

I live in Poland. Poland is a lovely country but the social trust is terribly low. As a nation, we don’t really trust people – and something I’ve observed and been told when I worked abroad is that we’re not really team players. And that’s true, even when you look at the way we’re working, starting from primary school. Team-work is important, being teachers we know that collaboration and cooperation are vital. Now, RPGs teach you team building. You have to work as a team, otherwise you won’t complete the quest. Communication, negotiation and the awesome ability of taking the blame sometimes and not blaming others – you learn it all here.

7. Teacher’s laziness

I know there are hard-working teachers who enjoy lesson-prep, copying materials and cutting-out visuals. Regretfully, I am not one of them. If you read my blog, you probably know the best lesson for me is when my students do the work and I am a mere counsellor. RPGs work like that – you prepare an adventure, define the area of the language your students are going to practise (“today we focus on the passive”) and make notes of new vocabulary they will want to revise after the session… and then you basically have fun! Especially when you see your students having a blast, not even realising they’re learning the language.

To be sure, I could give you more examples of RPGs being awesome in your class – and I probably will, as this year I’m starting a mini-course of English based solely on RPGs. Adventures galore, a group of teenagers, Great Cthulhu and English – what can possibly go wrong?

Well, we’re about to see quite soon…

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Edward de Bono “Lateral Thinking” – how to make your life more creative (book review)

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If I were to name my favourite things in the classroom, that would be triple C – creativity, communication and Cthulhu. Lateral thinking is something I really enjoy – thinking out of the box is fun for students, but for teachers it’s a necessity: how can you survive teaching the same stuff over and over again without being repetitive and, even worse, without getting tired of the monotony that goes with it?

For our own sake we should set our mindshift on the change, on creativity, on new ways of approaching old problems – that is how we will adjust our classes to various groups and students and ultimately make our lessons more varied and personalised and ourselves better professionals.

A short yet very inspiring book everyone should read is “Lateral Thinking” by Edward de Bono, who created the term lateral thinking, wrote the book Six Thinking Hats and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools. Naturally, for people mad about the research the fact that there is no bibliography in de Bono’s book might be somewhat disturbing, however it is an inspiration worth reading.

The book, as every good book, starts with a story – a riddle about a small black stone and about a fresh perspective on a problem. It’s a good tale and it shows you various ways you can use a new approach to tackle an old problem. Obviously, it is quite difficult to start thinking creatively, so de Bono explains the way people conceive ideas in a surprisingly understandable manner, presenting visual element to explain quite difficult theory.

For example, de Bono declares the “obvious” solutions as the “dominant” ideas – and he proposes to put them aside while tackling the problem. We cannot blind ourselves with the obvious, if we want to achieve a more creative and uncommon idea. The danger of such thinking is that we may end up stuck with the obvious because there is no certainty of finally coming up with a new, fresh idea that will prove as useful as the old one.

De Bono mentions also the importance of the doubt and of the accident – sometimes it’s one or the other that inspire us to creative thinking (like the Isaac Newton and the famous apple that fell down from the tree right to the field of physics). The thing about lateral thinking is that in a way we let our mind wander trying to find something that will help us solve the troublesome issue. However, there is nothing certain about this process and yet, sometimes a random encounter may help us see a new and wonderful idea.

Why do kids stop playing, asks de Bono and answers: because the world stops being a new and wonderful place full of discoveries and adventures. Leaving dominant ideas and practising lateral thinking may help us enjoy the process of thinking as truly creative, enjoying the new challenges our life gives us – and make everyday problems part of extraordinary life.

If you look for inspirations – you may start with this book.

Enjoy!

de Bono, Edward “Lateral Thinking”

Penguin Books Ltd., 2016

ISBN: 9780241257548

 

7 Free Online Courses in July

7Free OnlineCoursesin July

No rest for the wicked*! Summer break may be a great time to work on our skills and abilities, especially when we know that the new school year is bound to bring changes. This month I’ve decided to focus on the courses that are quite summerish and light, so you can learn between a morning suntanning session and an afternoon nap, when you sip some chilled white wine while nibbling on sweet cherries…

1 Teaching Entrepreneurial Thinking by QUT

Start: 2.07

Duration: 2 weeks

For whom: teachers and educational leaders who want to improve their teaching practice

This course will introduce you to what entrepreneurial thinking is, and why it’s an important skill for young people to learn, especially in a contemporary world where the big problems of today and tomorrow are yet to be identified. You will discuss the types of entrepreneurship and how entrepreneurial thinking can be applied in your classroom.

2 The Art of Teaching Foreign Languages to Young Learners by Universidad Nacional de Córdoba

Start: 2.07

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: educators interested in teaching languages to young people

The course reflects on various aspects of teaching foreign languages to young learners. You will discuss the developmental traits of children between ages 4 and 12, learn how to engage with children in a creative way and try to foster intercultural understanding through multimodal communication. If you are going to teach young learners soon, you will find this course particularly useful.

3 Exploring Play: the Importance of Play in Everyday Life by the University of Sheffield

Start: 9.07

Duration: 7 weeks

For whom: educators who focus on innovation and creativity

This course will help you reflect on the relationship between play, creativity and innovation in the workplace. From exploring the history of toys and games to investigating types of play in virtual worlds – you will discuss various aspects and definitions of play and current debates about how the nature of play changes.

This course is my pick of the month – it may be 7 weeks long, but it may help us give scientific background when trying to convince students that yes, you can learn the language while playing!

4 English Football: a Social History by the University of Leicester, DMU and Leicester City FC

Start: 16.07

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: anyone interested in football and its background

It’s the World Cup time and even you don’t understand the football fever, if you are a teacher of English as a foreign language you simply have to acknowledge the role of football in the UK! This course will explore the history and culture of football, with a focus on the World Cup and on Leicester City Football Club (them becoming Premier League Champions in 2016 was one of the most unusual moments in football history).

5 Pictures of Youth: An Introduction to Children’s Visual Culture by the University of York

Start: 16.07

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: anyone with an interest in contemporary educational and cultural topics

The course provides an introduction to popular types of visual culture for children and young people. By the end, you will gain a deeper understanding of children’s film, television, drama, picturebooks and comics. You will discuss the traditions of children’s visual culture and the plurality of ways in which childhood can be or has been represented – and have some time to reflect on your own childhood as well.

6 Professional Resilience: Building Skills to Thrive by Deakin University

Start: 23.07

Duration: 2 weeks

For whom: every teacher <sigh>

We all know that being a teacher is a tough and a stressful job. On this course you will learn about the capabilities, skills, and self-care practices that contribute to resilience. This will enable you to build up your own resilience so you’re ready to meet challenges at work and at home – and I believe summer break may be a great idea to build up resilience before the new school year begins.

7 Teaching English Online by Cambridge Assessment English

Start: 30.07

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: teachers who want to start teaching online

Online education is awesome, believe me – I was there both as a teacher and as a student. This course will help you start by introducing the context of English Language Teaching online. You will learn how to plan and deliver online language lessons and how to adapt your face-to-face teaching skills to an online environment. If you feel like working from home – that’s a perfect solution!

I hope you’ll find the courses useful – remember, no rest for the teachers!

Enjoy!

*Actually even the wicked may have some rest, so I’m taking a fortnight of a summer break. See you on the 17th of July when I’ll share some exciting adventures I’m going to take you during the magical Zlot Nauczycieli w Stryszawie and IATEFL Conference in Wrocław. Stay tuned!

M-education for beginners

M-educationforbeginners

Mobile phones are one of the most controversial aspects of today’s classroom. On one hand, we try to get rid of them, on the other hand we can’t live without them. I’m not talking about students – how often do we feel like using our mobile to check something more or less related to the class? Don’t we use Facebook to connect with other teachers and ask for help or inspiration? Don’t we browse Pinterest just to get a glimpse of an idea? The thing is – we’re not talking about mobile phones anymore, we’re talking about smartphones and we should use them according to their name: smart. There’s this joke I have access to the greatest library in the world… and I’m using it to browse pictures of cute cats. While I myself am absolutely guilty of spending too much time watching adorable felines, I am trying to reintroduce smartphones in my classroom, not as a nuisance though, but as a tool.
Mobile education, also called m-learning, is perceived by some as a kind of e-learning, yet it can be much more than that. By using smartphones in the class, and allowing – or even encouraging – my students to do the same, I bring some real context to the artificial
environment of a classroom. No longer a forbidden fruit, smartphones can be useful,
entertaining and… motivating!

Making learning more engaged

The most convenient thing about smartphone is that we can use it to check our facts
immediately, anytime and anyplace – be that a grammar rule, a spelling issue or a piece of information useful for our academic writing exercise. I am really surprised with my students not realising Google Scholar is something which can be more useful – and reliable – than Wikipedia. When a random question arises, even if it’s not related to anything we are studying at that moment, I encourage my students to check the answer on the spot, thus taking care of our natural curiosity which only too often is killed by the mundane world of educational system.
I also advise my students to use The Free Dictionary by Farlex – it’s a great antidote to
imperfect Google Translate, and is enriched with games, articles, spelling bee contests and a horoscope that always predicts good things (which is the only kind of horoscope we should believe).

Making learning collaborative

Teachers can use m-learning to individualise teaching, to engage students into learning beyond school and to encourage them to work with other students – which is much easier when we can use technology to communicate and share files.
Currently, the most useful application for me is padlet – I can share all the materials needed for the next class (my favourite form of homework), some additional exercises, place for submitting essays or projectwork etc. I also create closed groups on Facebook for my students where we make polls, enjoy discussions and try some brainstorming. It is also very useful when students write they had a particularly hard day at school and would love to play games or work on communication skills, instead of having to face planned grammar activities – if I get the message early enough, I can rearrange my lesson to their needs.

With padlet being now more commercial, I recommend trello as a similar solution.

Making learning communicative

Instant messengers are natural for our students (who, as I’ve recently read, perceive e-mails as outdated) – mobile technology changed that aspect of communication, and it’s obvious that at school, when students have to disconnect and switch to traditional way of learning in a formalised way, it may be quite difficult for them. So why not start using smartphones to encourage communication?
When it comes to warm-ups, for example, I find my smartphone irreplaceable. Story Dice, Table Topics, lateral thinking games – but to name a few. I find those applications – whether on my mobile or my students’ – really enjoyable and, what’s more important, that’s a great way of making them speak English right from the beginning of the lesson. They can even download the apps on their own, thus eliminating the teacher from the process of communication and carrying it out all by themselves.

Introducing rules

Naturally, smartphones may lead to some distracting behaviours – but are students
communicating via instant messengers so different from us, who used to write notes on pieces of paper and throw them to our friends? It’s the behaviour that is the real problem, not the technology. To avoid problems, we need to introduce some rules.
My rules are simple: all smartphones should be set on silent mode (unless being used for lesson purposes), on the desk, face down. I personally allow my students to use their smartphones whenever they finish their exercises or tasks sooner than most of the class – it’s really motivating them to get to work, just to check their Snapchat and text their friend casually yeah, I’m on my English lesson and I can chat, no problem, I’ve done my stuff and it’s OK.
As a teacher, I hope it is.

If you want to read more on the topic:
Kolb, Liz and Tonner, Sharon “Mobile Phones and Mobile Learning” in: “What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media” (2012)

The article was first published in The Teacher nr 1 (155) 2018.

500 Activities for the Primary Classroom – when you look for inspirations (book review)

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We all know that teaching kids requires not only knowledge and patience, but also wild amounts of ingenuity and creativity – the younger the learner, the more creative the teacher must be! And since I’ve professionally come back to dealing with young learners and teens, the book I felt like browsing through really carefully addressed the needs of the youngest learners – especially knowing the author.

I met Carol Read when I was a rookie teacher in a primary school – she was invited by Macmillan, visited Rzeszów and clearly wanted to observe a typical English lesson. I was only happy to deliver – and I found her one of the nicest people ever; also, she was the first native speaker my students had seen and they loved her.

What is the book about?

You would probably say – it’s 500 activities for children… and you’d be almost right, because it’s far more than this – each chapter starts with really useful methodological content that will help you understand the approaches behind various activities along with “reflection time” – section where you can think over your ideas. Moreover, each activity is followed by comments and suggestions, and with years of experience Ms. Read has a lot of useful tips to share!

Who is the book for?

As the dedication states – the book is for every teacher who tries to bring out the best in every child. If you’re a fresh teacher who hasn’t ever taught a kid – it’s for you! If you’re an experienced educator who has spent more time with the adults and now wants to start again with younger learners (like your truly) – you’ll find it a great source of inspiration!

Contents

The book is divided into ten sectionslistening and speaking, reading and writing, Vocabulary and grammar, Storytelling and drama, Games, Rhymes, chants and songs, Art and craft, Content-based learning, ICT and multimedia and Learning to learn. Each activity goes with an awesome description reminding me of my favourite book ever – level (from A1.1 to B1.2), age, organisation (groupwork, pairwork etc.), aims, language focus, materials and procedures. So, apart from mere ideas you have a lot of material you can adapt to your own groups and their needs.

My favourite activities

Naturally, the first part I read was the one focussed on storytelling – and the first exercise is called “words in the story” where kids create a story about a Kraken. My cthultistic heart appreciates such an excellent beginning! I really enjoyed the exercise “story stepping stones” where children learn to identify and use key episodes in the story – a very useful skill when it comes to storytelling.

But there are more activities than this – you will find activities you may use in a classroom on a regular basis – listening grid, follow the route task or wall dictation. I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll love.

Recommendations

This is one of those books I can recommend for everyone – even if you don’t teach children it may still prove useful; perfect when you need to cover for a colleague… or when your own (or your friends’) kids want to have fun and expect you to come up with a creative idea – 500 Activities is a great help, as young learners develop their skills unconsciously, simply having fun.

And having fun is something not only kids like!

Read, Carol “500 Activities for the Primary Classroom: Immediate Ideas and Solutions”

Macmillan Books for Teachers 2007

ISBN 978-1-4050-9907-3

 

5 ways to shine at your speaking test

5 ways to shine at your speaking test

There’s always one part of testing English that you hate. Some hate writing, others listening (aye, that would be me), but somehow it’s speaking that seems to cause lots of worries. To tell you the truth, I haven’t had problems with speaking ever since I came up with some simple steps. I can’t claim you’ll excel at speaking tests after following my ideas, but I do encourage you to give them a go – maybe they’ll work out for you just as they did for me!

1 Be a star!

Do you often do such boring tasks like housework? Doing the dishes may be an opportunity to play some kind of make-believe, and I don’t want you to become Anne of the Green Gables (unless you feel like it), but to imagine you’re a celebrity. Famous, gorgeous, popular and very much in demand for any interviewer possible. Now, controversial as it may be, celebrities are being asked about opinions on just too many things, starting with the weather, through world conflicts, ending with relationship advice – and here you are, being asked about as many various things as only you can think of. Be the Vacuuming Beyoncé, or Ronaldo, driving alone in his car – and talk to imaginary interviewer

(…) of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.

2 Make your vocabulary shiny

You might already know that I’m a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, and so I revel in the rich and sophisticated vocabulary you will find in his writings. When I was studying English Philology, I decided to learn some of the expressions by heart, so that I could get bonus points for impressive vocabulary. To be honest, it was hilarious, when a simple task of describing a car ride became in my version nothing less than a start of the Apocalypse, full of, naturally, blasphemous and amorphous shapes harbingering the Elder Gods. You get the gist, right? Obviously, I don’t recommend using such a specific area of lexis during your exams, but pick something you are absolutely sure you’ll be able to put in every single topic.

Like Great Cthulhu, obviously.

3 Role-play a little bit

I am deeply convinced that if anything, Role-Playing Games are the best source of fun-related speaking exercises. If you want to go full RPG, you might want to read my articles related to this matter, but to be honest – all you need to do is pick up a role of a more or less real person (you might be Harry Potter, or James Bond, or Elizabeth Bennet etc.) and act out for a while – the idea is quite similar to the one where you pretend to be a celebrity, but here you may ask a friend to impersonate another person just to have funny little chats “in roles” – all you need to do is to find someone to be a Watson to your Sherlock.

4 Think of a magic word

Have you ever tried to say bubbles angrily? You probably can’t, it’s just such a funny lovely word that makes you smile. Similarly with kitten, puppy – any other ideas? For me it’s catkin, don’t know why it’s just a word that makes me smile. Why do you need this? Because you should remember this word right before your exam (write it on your wrist if you might forget it). Whenever you start stressing out, imagine yourself in front of the examiners introducing yourself as “Hi, my name is Monika and my favourite word is catkin”.

Only, maybe don’t do this in real life exam…

5 Smile

It was proved that if you smile, your brain relaxes (you’ve probably heard of the famous pencil-in-mouth experiment where people faking smiles were indeed more relaxed… only this experiment was replicated 2 years ago and the results weren’t so optimistic). Apparently, fake smiles don’t work, you really need to feel it – so even if you feel terribly nervous, fake it till you make it! As an examiner, I’ll tell you, smiling people seem more confident, more pleasant and generally are easier to test.

Now, a bonus piece of advice comes from my Phonetics lecturer:

Have a shot (just one, mind!)

Of course, only if you are of age. And if you’ve had a decent breakfast. And if you have some chewing gum so that you won’t be too obvious. Seriously, while alcohol isn’t good for your voice in the long run (unless you want to have that hoarse sexy voice of Janice Joplin), it does switch off your feeling of stress and loosens up your muscles as well as vocal cords which makes speaking physically easier (it’s like in a real life, easier to chat in a foreign language after you’ve had a pint). It’s a somewhat risky method, mind, so I won’t encourage you to try it out before a real test – maybe record yourself speaking, then have a shot and continue to check how your fluency increases and your coherence… well, you might imagine.

Enjoy your experiments!

Self-assessment: how I introduced it in the classroom and survived

You're the best dad ever!

Some time ago I had a really nice chat with my almost-workmate Anna about self-assessment and challenges it may create. I talked about it from the perspective of my language school, she – from the viewpoint of a teacher in a public school. Our aims were the same, to introduce and implement self-assessment in our classes. Our environments, however, couldn’t have been more different.

Working in a private language school – let alone being a DoS with one – has encouraged me to try various approaches and methods in teaching. Dogme? – sure thing (you wouldn’t believe, though, the amount of lesson prep before a Dogme-style class). TBL? – great idea. Flipped classroom? – always! Station rotation? – awesome! I am absolutely aware, though, that educational system represented by public schools would never let me experiment, as in the system I would only be expected to deliver what’s in the curriculum.

I know. I left the system after two years in a primary school. Still keep in touch with “my” kids, though, bless their wicked little hearts.

Harris and McCann (Assessment Macmillan Heinemann, 1994) observe that students are often passive and expect teachers to tell them if they have done well or badly. This may be an issue when it comes to most Polish teenagers I know. That is why I decided to implement self-assessment throughout the whole IELTS preparatory course, so that both the students and I would be able to follow progress constantly. Moreover, the ability of self-assessing (valuable not only in language learning) should be a broad educational objective at secondary level – and the teens I teach think of studying abroad.

Self-assessment needs to be done at regular intervals, so that learners can be given an opportunity to think about what progress they are making and what their problems are. One of the benefits of teaching this particular group of students is that I taught them in the previous years, implementing peer review during tests and encouraging self-assessing activities in forms of questionnaires and regular individual interviews (some of them, especially the final one was conducted with students and their parents).

When it comes to self-assessment, I implemented it mainly during assessing speaking and writing skills, as those areas were crucial according to the needs’ analysis. What’s more, since reading and listening abilities may be practised during regular classes the students participate in their public schools, academic writing and IELTS-oriented speaking may not.

Apart from in-class speaking tasks, the students were asked to record themselves at home and listen to themselves, which is one of the most beneficial exercises before any speaking test – it may come as a surprise, but they actually did it, even sent me recordings with their self-assessment, highly underestimating their skills, which seems a traditional Polish approach to self-assessment. In-class we practised speaking in front of the classroom (incorporating peer review), but both the students and I believe self-assessing part is the most beneficial for further development.

Writing tasks proved to be the most difficult when it comes to implementing self-assessment, however, it also proved to be the most rewarding. In order to make the students reflect on their essays I highlighted the fragments requiring some change and did marking on a separate piece of paper. The students then were given their papers back, corrected the highlighted areas and tried to mark their own compositions – after this I handed out my markings and we compared the versions, which allowed for not only correction and development, but better understanding of the IELTS marking system.

What implementing self-assessment gave me, was something close to all-year long system of formative assessment. The great bonus is that those teens gain the great skill of being able to self-assess their own progress and this is a skill that will be useful in the future, when the memory of the IELTS preparation course is long gone.

I believe a step-by-step approach may help introducing self-assessment even within a framework of public education. Try peer review instead of marking tests, maybe a class contest instead of short tests, let them create their own quizzes, let them assess themselves. The teachers in public schools are expected to teach so that kids pass their tests – but maybe if you try a very slow process of implementing self-assessment, your students will appreciate something new that not only is fun, but also makes them learn even more.

Enjoy!